USA TODAY International Edition
Super Bowl will reveal: Was it too easy for Eagles this season?
PHILADELPHIA – The atmosphere inside the bowels of Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday night was pure party with everything from Soul II Soul to REO Speedwagon to bass- thumping house music blasting through the corridors outside the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles locker room.
The sonic assault washed over the players as they straggled off the field after the presentation of the George Halas Trophy following their 31- 7 conference- clinching demolition of the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game. Head coach Nick Sirianni went from stall to stall congratulating each of his players, and many posed for group pictures wearing little more than their grass- stained pants and NFC Champions T- shirts.
But with smoke wafting through the locker room as Pro Bowl wide receiver A. J. Brown distributed victory cigars, a question also hung over the Eagles: Has this all come a little too easily?
Perhaps it’s the kind of nitpick one gloms onto in the aftermath of a 14- 3 regular season, one temporarily decelerated by a rash of key injuries, but followed up by two dominant playoff wins. The Eagles collectively ran roughshod over the 49ers and New York Giants ( in the divisional round) by a collective score of 69- 14, surrendering 391 total yards while pitching shutouts in six of eight postseason quarters.
“We’re peaking at the right time,” Eagles running back Boston Scott told USA TODAY Sports.
But Scott and his teammates know.
The Eagles have enjoyed a pair of playoff cakewalks because they’re an excellent team ... and because the Giants were overmatched from a talent standpoint, while the 49ers’ hopes were instantly short- circuited Sunday after rookie quarterback Brock Purdy suffered an elbow injury on the opening drive that knocked him out of half the game and limited him to handoffs and very short throws when he was forced to return when backup Josh Johnson was concussed.
“It’s kinda like seeing a wounded animal, you’ve got to go out there and attack,” Philadelphia cornerback James
Bradberry told USA TODAY Sports. “We knew they still had weapons outside the two quarterbacks, but at the same time the ( injuries) definitely put a dent in their game plan.”
The Eagles didn’t know immediately after their victory Sunday they’d face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 57. But they did know they’ll almost surely be presented with a much stiffer challenge than they have faced this month and maybe probably all season.
“We know those are two great offenses, two great teams,” said Bradberry of the Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals. “We’re pretty confident in what we have here, we’re not worried about anybody else.”
And he did feel good about how the team has rebounded following some ugly showings after quarterback Jalen Hurts was temporarily sidelined late in the season by a shoulder injury.
“Playing 17 games in the NFL is hard,” said Bradberry. “Playing your best for 17 games is really hard.”
And let’s not short- change the NFC champions, who entered the playoffs as the conference’s top seed. The Eagles completed a three- game sweep of the Giants by dominating a tough team physically before shredding San Francisco’s defense, statistically the league’s best. The last team to rush for four TDs against the 49ers this season was ... well, there wasn’t one.
“There were a couple of times maybe where we as backs got spooked, when we should have gotten vertical,” admitted Scott. “But they’re a good defense, and we also had some great plays where we gashed them.”
Still, the Philadelphia defense hasn’t been tested lately. Yet that’s bound to happen in two weeks when it’s faced with an elite quarterback in Patrick Mahomes. In turn, that could mean that an offense that’s almost been on cruise control, salting away huge leads, could find itself in a much different scenario while asking more of Hurts – who’s still not 100% healthy – than he’s maybe had to provide the last two months.
Despite wearing a purple leather jacket after the game that would have made Michael Jackson proud, Sunday’s victory hardly seemed to be a thriller for Hurts.
“We want to go out there and play to our standard,” he said when asked what the team needs to focus on the next two weeks, his tone even- keeled and business- like throughout his postgame press conference. That doesn’t change regardless of the magnitude of the game. Today was good enough to get the win and advance, but we still want to go out there and play to our standard.”
And that’s a high bar for a team seeking its second Lombardi Trophy in six seasons and the first 17- win campaign in franchise history.
Said Scott: “We’re going to be prepared, we’re going to work and be ready.”